On March 23rd and 24th TechDays Sweden will take place in Orebro.
Eric Wauters (Waldo) came up with the briliant idea to volunteer to present NAV 2009 to the crowd and asked if I was interested to help. And so I did.
And against all odds our presentation was selected. So we have to go.
So for all the Swedish people out there! Come and see us!
We will be doing the presentation NAV 2009 SP1 Exposed
For the night of the 24th to the 25th we are also looking for some people from Stockholm to show us the city. Anyone?
In this concluding assessment of Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009, I focus on the Page Designer and the RDLC Reports. I end with an overview of the application's benefits.
The Page Designer
With Dynamics NAV 2009, two new designers were introduced. One of them is the Page Designer.
This designer is used to implement changes to the Role Tailored Interface. This designer is no longer WYSIWYG. It is an xML abstract that can be rendered in the new client but also used in Web Services. In the future releases you can expect it to maybe also render in SharePoint or ASP.NET.
From an end user's perspective, it means that it's more difficult to use. The classic form designer was WYSIWYG and easy for end users to use. BUT, I have not had questions from end users to use it. It seems to have been replaced by the personalization layers. So from that perspective, it's an improvement.
Another improvement for end users is that the personalization is no longer destroyed when the objects are changed. In the classic client, the order of the columns and widths could be personalized but would be destroyed when one of the underlying objects were changed. On the other hand, an end user can remove the personalizations from one object.
The same can be said for the consultant. The less technically skilled will no longer use the designer, but rather go in the personalization layers, or request the developer to change it.
This has been a developer's wish for a long time. The everlasting conflict of the grey area where end users and consultants changed objects in the database in order to change the UI layer.
It makes the developer's life easier. We'll apart from the issues already described in paragraph one, it does not really matter much. Developing pages is as easy as developing the classic forms. Some triggers and functions are no longer available, but new features have made up for that big-time.
Debugging and testing is the biggest issue for developers. A typical issue to watch out for is creating a personalization layer for the developer. This will overrule changes in the object. Be aware of that.
A completely new feature for Dynamics NAV developers is client extensibility. This makes it possible to hand over a control on a page to a .net library. This requires some basic .net skills but is fairly easy to do.
In the future, upgrading pages or merging pages from different solutions will be much easier than with the classic designer. This is a feature that now only few realize but will be recognized in the near future.
Rumors say that the report engine in the classic client was designed in a weekend in 1995 and has never changed since then.
I doubt this is exactly true, but the report engine could really use a big tune up. It did the job in creating ERP reports when color printers where unaffordable and no one knew what ‘pdf' meant.
So Microsoft decided to go ahead and give us new reporting features. Since they already had a reporting tool on the shelf, they decided to reuse that.
Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 renders its reports in RDLC. This is the same engine as SQL Server Reporting Services. That makes it confusing at the same time, since it does not use that.
Dynamics NAV 2009 generates a file based on the report definition and renders it in RDLC, giving us the possibilities of coloring, graphs, imaging and save as PDF and Excel.
This generated file is based on the report definition in the classic client. Based on the fields on the classic report, it generates a dataset. If you understand that, it all goes downhill from there.
From the end user perspective, live is heaven on earth. Reports are nice to look at, interactive and ready for collaboration. Unfortunately most of the reports in Dynamics NAV do not use these features. They are exact copies of the classic reports, making it very boring to look at.
Ad-hoc reporting in Dynamics NAV 2009 is more difficult, as first the classic report has to be changed to change the dataset, and then the RDLC layout.
This makes it also more difficult for less technical consultants to use and help users with small reporting requests.
Personally, I have to say that the development perspective is not all that bad. The Visual Studio designer is a good tool to work with on the RDLC part and the toughest job is to find where the features are. Once you have found where the features are, it is easy to get enthusiastic and start being creative. Creating a report in the new designer is not more work than in the old designer unless you use the new features, but that will add value to the report and user experience.
The classic reports are supported in the Role Tailored Client. This makes ad-hoc reporting easier and makes it less work to upgrade an existing solution to the new platform.
The new reporting possibilities are very impressive, but Microsoft has some work to do, especially from the end user and consultant ad-hoc reporting perspective.
Advantages and Disadvantages
My conclusion is that Dynamics NAV 2009 is a real big step forward into the future. Especially from an end user perspective. It is much more productive, easier to work with and intuitive.
In the future, web services will allow you to better integrate with the outside world, but the requirements for this is going slower in the real world than at Microsoft.
The downsides, if any, are not visible for the customer and/or end users. The service tier requires extra installation, but is extremely easy to maintain once up and running.
The new personalization layers make it less likely for end users to change objects in the database and touch the designers. There are plenty of ad-hoc reporting possibilities with Word, Excel and the classic reports.
For partners with a large vertical solution, it is a tough job getting it to run in the new environment, and I strongly recommend carefully considering how to use the Transformation Tool.
It is also still possible to implement Dynamics NAV with a small team. One of my implementations is done completely by myself in a company without internal IT staff. The price of Dynamics NAV is still competitive with other packages, but the real advantage is in the speed of the implementation and the ROI in people productivity.